Open meetings soon come

A new government office building in central George Town will provide enough space to hold certain board meetings in public for the first time.

Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said last week that the five storey $85 million Government Office Accommodation Project will have a large room on the ground floor specifically designed for open meetings.

The office building is scheduled to open in January 2011.

Mr. Tibbetts said it has not been determined which boards would be able to hold open meetings, but that government was operating on the principle of ‘as far as is possible.’

‘I was with the Central Planning Authority (Wednesday) and we were discussing, come January first, what portion of the meetings would be held in the public forum,’ Mr. Tibbetts said.

Government has previously stated a lack of available meeting space was one of the major problems with opening up some boards to the public. Right now, the only government-appointed boards to hold public meetings are the Liquor Licensing Board and the Public Accounts Committee.

However, Mr. Tibbetts said government realised there would be some discretion required in holding opening meetings of entities like the planning authority, the Central Tenders Committee and the Work Permit Board.

‘For instance, when we look at the various immigration boards, while we would very much like to…solve everybody’s problems and have those boards in public forum, one of the difficulties we recognise with that is that for most if not all of the applications there’s a lot of private information.’

It has been suggested that certain government-appointed boards could hold open meetings and implement something similar to an executive session, where personnel or other private matters can be discussed.

The government office project, when completed, will comprise 240,000 square feet of space including the parking garage in the basement. It will house 34 separate government agencies.

Mr. Tibbetts mentioned the possibility that another, smaller building on the site might be required for other government entities. The initial plan for the government office project called for two buildings, but the cost of both was too much for Cayman to take on at once.

‘I suspect after we’re through with Phase 1, and we have everybody housed in (the new government building) then we work towards a plan for the other building,’ he said. ‘It certainly won’t accommodate everyone.’

The first floor public lobby of the government office project will resemble a bank, with a number of service desks for agencies like the planning department, general registry, pensions, and the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority. The ground floor will also include offices for those entities.

The second floor of the building will house the Civil Aviation Authority, Government Information Services, the Cayman Islands Investment Bureau, Computer Services and the Portfolio of the Civil Service. The third floor will contain more offices for CIMA, the tax authority, and the Maritime Authority.

The fourth floor will be home to the Planning Authority offices, and the Portfolio of Finance and Economics. The fifth floor will house the governor’s office, the attorney general’s chambers and the various government ministries.

It’s hoped moving all the above agencies into one government-owned building will eliminate the annual cost of leasing space for their offices. By 2013, the government’s total yearly lease payments at its current office locations are expected to reach $10 million a year.